8 Expressive Art Therapy Techniques

Expressive Art Therapy has a plethora of uses and can help people to overcome emotional and psychological problems. By expressing ourselves through art, we can learn to understand ourselves and others in a way that talking therapy may not explore for an individual. There are many techniques that have been designed for use during this therapy and can be done independently or with a therapist, and depend entirely on your goals.

1. Fairytales
If you are looking for clarity within yourself, getting in touch with your feelings and personality, writing a fairytale about yourself can help. If you are working with a client or Service User, allow them to explore their hopes and fears by writing a fictional story. Through the characters struggle and eventual success by overcoming their problems, it can help the client to feel more empowered to deal with their own problems in reality. By solving their characters problems, they can become more confident. Think about when you read a fairytale as a child, or watched a film that took you on a journey where no matter how big the problem was, it was overcome and everything turned out alright in the end. In this way, the personal fairytale can be an even more powerful way to help the individual see their strengths and work out solutions for their own lives.

2. Dreams
Another way to focus the client on getting in touch with the self is through mindfulness. One of the techniques therapists use to explore this is to encourage the client to draw their dreams. Often our dreams can bring up issues and needs that we need to address and which may be playing on our subconscious because we are not fully aware of the effect they are having on us mentally. In this way, drawing or writing about our dreams helps us to notice themes, identify metaphors and explore our hopes and fears; hopes and fears which we may not be consciously aware of ourselves.

3. Family Tree of Strength
If the individual is feeling lonely, unsupported or isolated, which often happens around this time of year, use a gratitude exercise to find out their support network and reassure them that there is always someone who can help them. Often, therapists will ask the client to create a `family tree of strength`. This may not always be related to family in a solely biological sense, but it may involve friends, co-workers, social workers, neighbours, in fact any person with whom the client has a relationship with. By drawing the tree, the individual feels more supported and has a clearer picture of who they have around them in a positive way.

4. Stuffed Animal
When a client or service user is feeling down, sad or is going through a rough period in their lives, it can be as simple as bringing back a little piece of comfort and happiness to help cheer them up and keep their motivation levels raised. Sometimes, therapists will supervise the creation of a stuffed animal, or `cuddly toy`. In this way, the focus will be on creating something comforting and pleasant, which ultimately will turn into something they are proud of creating and will always remember the emotions attached to this animal.

5. Portraits
On occasion, the problems we are currently facing in life seem larger than our entire lives. We can lose perspective and can see only the last few days, weeks or months. To place a client`s focus back on the bigger picture, portraits can be created of the individual to display their past, present and future selves. This allows for reflection of the past- a different time when none of their current problems existed. But it also allows for acceptance of their current position and expression of those problems as they feel to the individual. Finally, by creating a future portrait, the individual can imagine a future without these problems, they can imagine themselves overcoming their issues and being a different person.

6. Relaxation
In today`s busy environment, everyone rushes around, and time seems to move too fast to enjoy the moment. So the therapist often teaches relaxation techniques to the client in order for them to really benefit from their `me time`. Procrastination is a problem we are facing on a global scale- often through feelings of helplessness, and this is not at all the same as relaxation time. One technique follows the methods of the Zen Garden- by using sand to draw in. Sand is a fantastic relaxation tool and can be used to express feelings, to accept that what is created doesn’t last forever or to destroy thoughts that are useless to the individual.

7. A Safe Place
Often, Expressive Arts Therapists will meet with individuals who have experienced a variety of trauma and loss, There are many techniques available to deal with trauma and loss, one of which is the idea of a safe place. By allowing the client to draw a picture of a place where they feel safe, it reassures the individual that they always have a place to go, mentally or physically, where they can find comfort.

8. Message Balloon
One of the most popular techniques which therapists and individuals use alike is the message attached to a balloon. Balloons drift off into the sky, far away from the individual and take whatever message they wish to send with them. It’s liberating and can be a written or drawn message.

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